United fell behind in the 15th minute to a spectacular overhead goal by Juan Agudelo and fought off several more attacks before equalizing in the final minute of the first half on a Chris Pontius header. Chris Rolfe clanged a penalty kick off the base of the post but a superb buildup presented him with a chance to atone, and he tapped in the winner from a Fabian Espindola feed.
Here are three takeaways from a memorable night in the pouring rain at RFK:
1. Fabulous night for Fabi.
Espindola, 30, has endured good and lean times since joining United from the Red Bulls. He scored 35 goals and logged 17 assists for Real Salt Lake in six seasons (2007-12) and was a mainstay of its success, but was shipped off to New York in a salary-dumping move.
He scored nine goals in 28 goals for the Red Bulls before joining United for the 2014 season, which ended in disgrace when he shoved a match official and was handed a six-game suspension for the start of the 2015 campaign.
On Wednesday, the Revs couldn’t contain him, and though a superb save by Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth denied him a goal he continually pressured and probed on the left flank. A great corner kick to Pontius produced the equalizer and his intelligent overlap got him into position to square the ball Rolfe tucked away for the winner.
Espindola, as the long suspension showed, has a volatile temperament that has landed him in hot water before. But he resolutely stuck to his task in tough conditions and helped propel United into the next round.2. Hamid the hero, again.
Several times a season for the past few years, head coach Ben Olsen has lamented his team’s over-dependence on Bill Hamid, who won Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2014 and has been every bit as good this year.
While D.C. has certainly struggled defensively at times in 2015, there’s also the fact that Hamid’s quickness of foot and powers of anticipation get him to balls other keeper can’t even reach. In the first half, he twice stoned Kelyn Rowe; the first time with a diving hand save going to his right, and then on a point-blank chance Hamid scrambled across his line to block with his chest. His chest! So quickly did he close down Rowe, going from one post to another, the Revs attacker had no angle for his shot.
United controlled most of the second half, so Hamid was rarely called into action. Yet still needed him to stab up his right hand to repel a point-blank header by Jermaine Jones in regulation.3. The handball brouhaha.
Referee Mark Geiger whistled for a penalty kick when a deflected cross struck the arm of Revs midfielder Scott Caldwell, and ignored a ball that bounced off the hand of Sean Franklin as he dueled at close range with Jones in stoppage time.
There are among the toughest calls for a referee, and opinions about the validity of each call ranged through the gamut: one right, one wrong; both right; and both wrong.
The situations were compared as if they were similar and they weren’t. Geiger apparently ruled that Caldwell was far enough away -- several yards --- when a low cross from Alvaro Saborio caromed off the foot of Jose Goncalves to get his arm out of the way. It was a close call, but Geiger was in excellent position and made his decision immediately.
Franklin was marking Jones tightly when the Revs midfielder kicked the ball and from his reaction -- Jones quickly drew a red card and was sent off -- it seemed an act of desperation had prompted Jones to play the ball as he did with Franklin right in his grill.
My take? I don't call either one. But the case for a PK is certainly stronger on the first one.
TRIVIA. The long history of these teams includes a 2004 playoff game in which head coaches Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps squared off as players. Both failed to convert penalty kicks after the teams played an incredible 3-3 tie at RFK in the Eastern Conference final (a one-game playoff at the time). Brian Carroll hit the decisive PK and United went on to beat Kansas City, 3-2, in the final for its fourth -- and last -- title.